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Exhibits to portray Rice Hospital, past and present

WILLMAR -- Starched white nurses' caps, a stethoscope and even an old-fashioned enamel bedpan are among the artifacts collected for Rice Memorial Hospital's 75th anniversary party this week.

Organizers are portraying the hospital, past and present, in a unique living history display as part of the celebration.

"What we wanted to do is give the community a sense of where Rice has been and where we are today," said Sherri Klaers, staff education coordinator and one of the coordinators of the history exhibit.

The exhibit, which will be spread throughout the board room, classrooms and the Lakeland Auditorium, is among the highlights of an open house for the community from 9 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday

Employees have been working for months to plan an event that's interactive, educational and fun.

"We wanted it to have a personal connection for people," Klaers said. "Departments are trying to collect as many older pieces of history as they can."

The display will include vintage items from the doctor's traditional black bag, as well as artifacts belonging to the Rice family, whose bequest to the city helped establish Rice Hospital in 1937. Several current and retired nurses brought in carefully preserved white caps, white scrubs and even a white dress with the nurse's name stitched on the front.

Visitors to the open house will have a chance to see replicas of a hospital room -- complete with bed -- as it looked then and now.

Just how dramatically the hospital has changed became evident as the planning committee began trying to unearth historical equipment from each department. There was little to be found, even from the 1960s and 1970s, probably because so much of it is obsolete.

X-rays, for instance, are now digital. To create an exhibit showing the public what an old film X-ray looked like, the committee has had to search high and low for a light box, Klaers said. "We're trying to make sure we find one."

Some hospital services were developed or expanded so recently, they don't even have much history to draw on.

The Willmar Regional Cancer Center, which combines radiation therapy and chemotherapy services for cancer care, only opened its doors as an integrated program in late 2009. "This is a new entity," said its director, Barb Hoeft.

The staff has enjoyed reminiscing about times past, she said. "It has been fun." But the cancer center's role in the history exhibit will focus mostly on "what we are doing now."

The open house in fact will pay considerable tribute to what's new and current at Rice Hospital, with an emphasis on hands-on activities.

For example, the Rice Rehabilitation Center will demonstrate new pressure-mapping technology that helps reduce the risk of debilitating pressure ulcers by pinpointing areas of pressure when someone is seated. The pharmacy has created a demonstration on the use of technology in delivering the right dose of medication to the right patient.

A variety of health screenings, along with a teddy bear clinic for children, also will be offered.

"We're going to pull in historical information and have things that people can touch and interact with. We'll have people that are the experts for each of those areas," Klaers said. "I think it is going to be exciting."

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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